in a Changing Society1
Anne Foner Rutgers University Karen Schwab Social Security Administration
Retirement from the labor force at age 65 or earlier is a well-established pattern in the United States today. In 1978, only about 20 percent of the men and 8 percent of the women 65 and over were working or looking for work ( Bureau of the Census, 1979). According to common stereotypes, however, most workers do not retire willingly. They are instead the victims of mandatory retirement rules and would be eager to return to work if they were given the opportunity. Further, according to stereotypes, retired people are not satisfied with retired life. Some retirees are so unhappy that retirement results in illness and early death.
Although solid research challenges some of these stereotypes and finds others are oversimplifications, unfounded beliefs about retirement die hard. In this paper, we review evidence on some widely held beliefs about retirement, and we explore why myths about retirement persist -- even among gerontologists and professional practitioners. We also review studies which suggest that misleading perceptions about the abilities of older workers are common. We propose that one source of unfounded beliefs is the narrow focus of paradigms guiding much work in the field. A more comprehensive approach that recognizes the impact of trends in society and dynamic age-related processes on older people is important for interpreting data about work and retirement of older people today and for developing policies for the future.____________________